Human rights abuses: Bush's policies continued

Issue 

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre, Republican President George W. Bush launched illegal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush enacted "anti-terrorism" policies under which people could be labelled "terror suspects" without evidence and abducted, jailed and tortured in secret.

"Extraordinary rendition" involves taking people on undocumented CIA flights either to black sites — a worldwide network of secret CIA jails — or to the torture chambers of US-allied dictatorships.

Bush's US Patriot Act allowed for spying on US citizens without the oversight previously required by law.

Barack Obama's landslide 2008 election victory reflected a rejection by US voters of the Bush administration's wars and human rights abuses. Unfortunately, Obama's Democrat administration is continuing many of the policies of its predecessor.

Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama said: "We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend." However, in the same speech, Obama specifically embraced Bush's illegal doctrine of "preventive" war.

Like the Bush regime, the Obama administration continues to operate secret prisons around the world, in which detainees are tortured and the International Committee for the Red Cross denied access.

Obama has resisted demands for investigations into the criminal activities of the previous government. The justice department has blocked lawsuits that demand release of evidence or seek civil penalties against US officials involved in human rights abuses.

Under Obama, the US continues to detain people indefinitely on terrorism allegations, without testing the allegations in court. Innocent people are still held in the US military-run prison camp at Guantanamo Bay (Cuban territory that the US illegally occupies), despite his post-election promise to close the jail.

The US jail at Bagram airbase in occupied Afghanistan — described as worse than Guantanamo Bay by prisoners who have been detained in both — is being expanded.

In 2008, the US Supreme Court ordered 33 out of 39 Guantanamo Bay detainees who brought their cases before court to be released because that there was no evidence to justify the accusations against them. Hundreds more have been released without charge and returned to their countries of origin after years of brutal torture.

Some have died in suspicious circumstances in custody. Some bodies returned to families had been mutilated to make an independent autopsy impossible.

Obama is using the same legal pretext that was used by the Bush administration to maintain the camp — the authorisation for use of military force passed by Congress one week after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Obama administration maintains this position despite a 2006 Supreme Court ruling (Hamdan v Rumsfeld) that there is nothing in the authorisation allowing the president to ignore an individual's constitutional right of due process.

Obama is keeping Guantanamo operating while attempting to set up a similar military prison on US soil. This new military prison in Thomson, Illinois, is proposed to hold those Guantanamo detainees who are not released to their home countries or to other countries.

They will either be jailed there indefinitely or tried before deeply flawed military tribunals. Newly captured war-on-terror "suspects" will also be held there.

However, these plans are opposed not only by human rights supporters but by conservative politicians who claim that it would be a threat to US security for any former Guantanamo detainee to set foot on US soil, even to be imprisoned.

The murky world of "extraordinary rendition", and the continuity between the policies of Bush and Obama, is highlighted by the case of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a neuroscientist and US citizen of Pakistani origin. Siddiqui disappeared from Karachi in 2003 with her three young children. Pakistani newspapers reported that she had been arrested, with her children, for having terrorist links.

However, from 2004, US officials began claiming that she was not in their custody but was wanted for providing logistical support to al-Qaeda. She was accused of, among other crimes, smuggling diamonds in Liberia to raise funds for al-Qaeda in June 2001. However, in June 2001 she was in Boston running a play group.

In 2005, former Bagram detainees reported that there was a female prisoner being held in the jail, and that they had heard her being tortured. US officials denied any woman was being held in Bagram. On July 7, 2008, British journalist Yvonne Ridley held a press conference claiming that Siddiqui was indeed held in Bagram.

On August 4, 2008, US officials admitted that she was in US custody in Afghanistan. However, they said she was arrested by Afghan police on July 17 carrying jars of chemicals and documents with titles like "mass casualty attacks" and "how to make a dirty bomb".

US authorities said that on July 18, while she was in custody, she grabbed the rifle of one of her US captors and attempted to kill them all. She was shot twice but survived.

It was for this alleged attempted murder that she was extradited to the US and went to trial on January 19. She was not charged with any offences related to the allegations made against her at the time of her disappearance. Neither was she charged over the chemicals and documents she was allegedly in possession of. These materials have never been produced.

On February 3, she was convicted of attempted murder, despite FBI experts testifying that the rifle she was alleged to have grabbed did not have her fingerprints on it and showed no evidence of being fired.

Siddiqui said she was held in Bagram from 2003 and tortured and raped. Her two youngest children have disappeared.

Obama's budget for the fiscal year 2011 calls for an extra $33 billion in funding for his escalating wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and the Middle East. The US accounts for half of the world's total military spending. The combined military budgets of China and Russia are equal to only10% of US military spending, which is almost $1.5 trillion.

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